Adoption can be a highly effective solution to great difficulties in the birth parents’ lives and is often a positive and nourishing experience, giving a child the chance to grow up within a loving family system.  In this way it offers a way to support a child that may not have been possible for the birth parents, either personally or financially. In other words it appears to be an elegant solution to a complex and sometimes urgent problem.

However, the deepest human need is to belong and adoption can create challenging inner questions connected to that innate need: “Who am I? To whom do I belong? Why was I not good enough to keep? Where do I belong?” These existential questions can resolve, or may linger and limit life, love and the world of work.

The experience of adoption – for the adoptive parents, for the child themselves and for their birth parents – is outside the realm of experience of most people and comes with its own set of unique dynamics. This article explores some of the complex dynamics around adoption and also offers some insights, from a systemic perspective, that may be useful when searching for resolution.

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Adopted in ways that support the flow of life 

When a child or young adult is adopted in a way that respects and acknowledges the place of their natural birth parents, they can flourish. There are many many success stories from many countries and cultures in multiple contexts.

Additionally, where a child is adopted by parents who either cannot, or choose not to, have their own children, this can be especially settling for the adopted child.

If the adoptive parents give a place in their hearts to the birth parents who gave their child to them, then the adopted child can hold an inner statement, an inner ‘sentence for life’ something like this: “I have double the resources of others… I am loved twice over.” In these circumstances there is much less need to search for completion; they have all the resources they need and can live fully.

Many adult children of adoptive parents feel like this and do well in life, in love and at work, for when a child is adopted in a way that respects and gives a place to their natural parents they can do well. No one is excluded and everyone has a place.

The system has integrity and so does the child.

These children often grow up to feel deeply resourced, are able to work in multiple systems and are often happy and generous with their love and affection. 

As an adopted child I thrive on the gift of multiplicities of belonging. This has been manifest in my life and work, enabling me to relate to, work across and work with diverse cultures and organisations.”

Maggie Rose

Adopted in ways that entangle and limit

Life for an adopted child can become complex especially if they become entangled through a lack of appropriate and respectful acknowledgment of their origins. This happens when the adoptive parents in some way assume the ‘first position’ in the system, above the birth parents – either explicitly or implicitly. This can happen in a number of ways. For example by forbidding mention of the birth parents, or the opposite, by talking a lot about what a good decision it was they made to give up their child. How it was the ‘right’ thing to have done and how all the adults agreed to this sense of rightness.  Within this context an adopted child may grow into a young adult who really struggles to find their identity or meaning in life, to build successful intimate relationships or to find their place of belonging in social and professional systems. 

Other patterns that result in difficulties include when partners secretly hope to resolve something difficult or incomplete between them by adopting a child. Or perhaps they adopt in a patronising way that is an outward show of ‘care’. Or they do not fully grieve their own loss of a child or the ability to create children and ‘go shopping’ to buy a child, hoping this will resolve the issue.

As a result of unspoken or unresolved dynamics emerging from these and other complex dynamics and contexts an adopted person may hold inner ‘life sentences’, that can include:

“I am very angry at being given away…”
“I don’t know where I’m from and therefore who I am…”
“I have no place, I don’t belong…” “I am not good enough to keep…”
“I was not and am still not for sale….”
“I can never find my place in life or an organisation…”

This article describes and illuminates some of the limiting dynamics that can be present in adoption and offers some paths to a more settled system.

“If adopting for both the adoptive parents, is a conscious act of respect and love – for their own relationship, the birth parents and the adopted child – then life and love can flow.”

John Whittington

My birth parents gave me the gift of life. Then I was given as a gift and I was received as a gift. As a result I have a great deal to give. I do so willingly, with love.


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